|Pepperell Mill Girls|
First the yoke, then the collar, then the sleeves, then the body.
I hear it as a mantra in my head.
Start with the pieces then onto the body. That's the proper way to iron a shirt.
I grew up with Mill Girls - women who worked as what was also known by its more lofty name of "Textile Factory Workers" and the more lowly but accurate "Sweat Shop Girls".
There were many mill towns in Massachusetts, Lowell, Fall River, New Bedford, Lawrence, Pepperell, Worchester, among them. English women, brought from across The Pond by the owners of the mills were the first. As immigration provided a steady stream of workers, then came the Irish, the French Canadian and then "my people" - the Portuguese.
|Fall River Mill Girls|
We were fortunate. We lived with my grandparents in an apartment above their home outside of the city proper.
We had a vegetable garden and fruit trees and a grape vine in the back yard and my grandmothers rose bushes in the front yard.
Mary on Buttons.
Mary the Presser.
Bella in Finishing.
Bella on Zippers. No, not that Bella. Isabella. Mary on Buttons' cousin. Joe's wife. You know, Joe. He works night shift down at Firestone Tire and Rubber. She made that big pan of Bacalau for Rosie's daughter's Christening that was so good. Ahhh, right. Her.
When we were kids, we learned Nursery Rhymes and Mill Girl Rhymes - both probably left over from the English.
One I remember was: "I'm Gerty Schmirtz. I iron shirts. I iron shirts 'till me fingers hurts." We sometimes sang that one as we jumped rope.
It was a prayerful mantra that, no matter how much we might have hated school at the moment, it was important not to end up as a Mill Girl.
Sometimes, these women surround me when I'm ironing.
I can hear them calling to me. "Stop being a Lazy Mary! Unbutton that cuff! Now, slide the end over the end of the ironing board. That's why it's narrow like that. Wait! Put more water in the steamer. Now, work that wrinkle out there. You want people to know you don't know how to iron a blouse? A little more steam . . . a touch of that spray starch . . . There! See? Good job."
It's not only a good skill to have, it's a wonderful way to pray.
It's a bit like a Buddhist mantra or praying the Rosary.
Repetitive: Yoke. Collar. Sleeves. Body. Hang on hanger. Repeat.
Mindlessly mindful. Accomplishing nothing until, suddenly, it's done.
Unlike many prayers, the immediate results are visible: A finished product. One of many. Hanging neatly - crisply - in a row in the closet.
|The Irish Mill Girls|
Prayer as piecework.
I am the daughter and granddaughter and niece and cousin of Fall River Mill Girls.
I know how to iron a shirt.
Sometimes, when I can't use the Book of Common Prayer, I iron a shirt.
And, my heart overflows with deep gratitude.